A Simpleton by Charles Reade
When Falcon went, luck seemed to desert their claim: day after day went by without a find; and the discoveries on every side made this the more mortifying.
By this time the diggers at Bulteel's pan were as miscellaneous as the audience at Drury Lane Theatre, only mixed more closely; the gallery folk and the stalls worked cheek by jowl. Here a gentleman with an affected lisp, and close by an honest fellow, who could not deliver a sentence without an oath, or some still more horrible expletive that meant nothing at all in reality, but served to make respectable flesh creep: interspersed with these, Hottentots, Kafirs, and wild blue blacks gayly clad in an ostrich feather, a scarlet ribbon, and a Tower musket sold them by some good Christian for a modern rifle.
On one side of Staines were two swells, who lay on their backs and talked opera half the day, but seldom condescended to work without finding a diamond of some sort.
After a week's deplorable luck, his Kafir boy struck work on account of a sore in his leg; the sore was due to a very common cause, the burning sand had got into a scratch, and festered. Staines, out of humanity, examined the sore; and proceeding to clean it, before bandaging, out popped a diamond worth forty pounds, even in the depreciated market. Staines quietly pocketed it, and bandaged the leg. This made him suspect his blacks had been cheating him on a large scale, and he borrowed Hans Bulteel to watch them, giving him a third, with which Master Hans was mightily pleased. But they could only find small diamonds, and by this time prodigious slices of luck were reported on every side. Kafirs and Boers that would not dig, but traversed large tracts of ground when the sun was shining, stumbled over diamonds. One Boer pointed to a wagon and eight oxen, and said that one lucky glance on the sand had given him that lot: but day after day Staines returned home, covered with dust, and almost blinded, yet with little or nothing to show for it.
One evening, complaining of his change of luck, Bulteel quietly proposed to him migration. "I am going," said he resignedly: "and you can come with me."
"You leave your farm, sir? Why, they pay you ten shillings a claim, and that must make a large return; the pan is fifteen acres."
"Yes, mine vriend," said the poor Hollander, "they pay; but deir money it cost too dear. Vere is mine peace? Dis farm is six tousand acres. If de cursed diamonds was farther off, den it vas vell. But dey are too near. Once I could smoke in peace, and zleep. Now diamonds is come, and zleep and peace is fled. Dere is four tousand tents, and to each tent a dawg; dat dawg bark at four tousand other dawgs all night, and dey bark at him and at each oder. Den de masters of de dawgs dey get angry, and fire four tousand pistole at de four tousand dawgs, and make my bed shake wid the trembling of mine vrow. My vamily is with diamonds infected. Dey vill not vork. Dey takes long valks, and always looks on de ground. Mine childre shall be hump-backed, round-shouldered, looking down for diamonds. Dey shall forget Gott. He is on high: dere eyes are always on de earth. De diggers found a diamond in mine plaster of mine wall of mine house. Dat plaster vas limestone; it come from dose kopjes de good Gott made in His anger against man for his vickedness. I zay so. Dey not believe me. Dey tink dem abominable stones grow in mine house, and break out in mine plaster like de measle: dey vaunt to dig in mine wall, in mine garden, in mine floor. One day dey shall dig in mine body. I vill go. Better I love peace dan money. Here is English company make me offer for mine varm. Dey forgive de diamonds."
"You have not accepted it?" cried Staines in alarm.
"No, but I vill. I have said I shall tink of it. Dat is my vay. So I say yah."
"An English company? They will cheat you without mercy. No, they shall not, though, for I will have a hand in the bargain."
He set to work directly, added up the value of the claims, at ten shillings per month, and amazed the poor Hollander by his statement of the value of those fifteen acres, capitalized.
And to close this part of the subject, the obnoxious diamonds obtained him three times as much as his father had given for the whole six thousand acres.
The company got a great bargain, but Bulteel received what for him was a large capital, and settling far to the south, this lineal descendant of le philosophe sans savoir carried his godliness, his cleanliness, and his love of peace, out of the turmoil, and was happier than ever, since now he could compare his placid existence with one year of noise and clamor.
But long before this, events more pertinent to my story had occurred.
One day, a Hottentot came into Bulteel's farm and went out among the diggers, till be found Staines. The Hottentot was one employed at Dale's Kloof, and knew him. He brought Staines a letter.
Staines opened the letter, and another letter fell out; it was directed to "Reginald Falcon, Esq."
"Why," thought Staines, "what a time this letter must have been on the road! So much for private messengers."
The letter ran thus:--
DEAR SIR,--This leaves us all well at Dale's Kloof, as I hope it shall find you and my dear husband at the diggings. Sir, I am happy to say I have good news for you. When you got well by God's mercy, I wrote to the doctor at the hospital and told him so. I wrote unbeknown to you, because I had promised him. Well, sir, he has written back to say you have two hundred pounds in money, and a great many valuable things, such as gold and jewels. They are all at the old bank in Cape Town, and the cashier has seen you, and will deliver them on demand. So that is the first of my good news, because it is good news to you. But, dear sir, I think you will be pleased to hear that Dick and I are thriving wonderfully, thanks to your good advice. The wooden house it is built, and a great oven. But, sir, the traffic came almost before we were ready, and the miners that call here, coming and going, every day, you would not believe, likewise wagons and carts. It is all bustle, morn till night, and dear Reginald will never be dull here now; I hope you will be so kind as tell him so, for I do long to see you both home again.
Sir, we are making our fortunes. The grain we could not sell at a fair price, we sell as bread, and higher than in England ever so much. Tea and coffee the same; and the poor things praise us, too, for being so moderate. So, sir, Dick bids me say that we owe this to you, and if so be you are minded to share, why nothing would please us better. Head-piece is always worth money in these parts; and if it hurts your pride to be our partner without money, why you can throw in what you have at the Cape, though we don't ask that. And, besides, we are offered diamonds a bargain every day, but are afraid to deal, for want of experience; but if you were in it with us, you must know them well by this time, and we might turn many a good pound that way. Dear sir, I hope you will not be offended, but I think this is the only way we have, Dick and I, to show our respect and good-will.
Dear sir, digging is hard work, and not fit for you and Reginald, that are gentlemen, amongst a lot of rough fellows, that their talk makes my hair stand on end, though I dare say they mean no harm.
Your bedroom is always ready, sir. I never will let it to any of them, hoping now to see you every day. You that know everything, can guess how I long to see you both home. My very good fortune seems not to taste like good fortune, without those I love and esteem to share it. I shall count how many days this letter will take to reach you, and then I shall pray for your safety harder than ever, till the blessed hour comes when I see my husband, and my good friend, never to part again, I hope, in this world.
I am sir, your dutiful servant and friend,
P.S. There is regular travelling to and from Cape Town, and a post now to Pniel, but I thought it surest to send by one that knows you.
Staines read this letter with great satisfaction. He remembered his two hundred pounds, but his gold and jewels puzzled him. Still it was good news, and pleased him not a little. Phoebe's good fortune gratified him too, and her offer of a partnership, especially in the purchase of diamonds from returning diggers. He saw a large fortune to be made; and wearied and disgusted with recent ill-luck, blear-eyed and almost blinded with sorting in the blazing sun, he resolved to go at once to Dale's Kloof. Should Mrs. Falcon be gone to England with the diamonds, he would stay there, and Rosa should come out to him, or he would go and fetch her.
He went home, and washed himself, and told Bulteel he had had good news, and should leave the diggings at once. He gave him up the claim, and told him to sell it by auction. It was worth two hundred pounds still. The good people sympathized with him, and he started within an hour. He left his pickaxe and shovel, and took only his double rifle, an admirable one, some ammunition, including conical bullets and projectile shells given him by Falcon, a bag full of carbuncles and garnets he had collected for Ucatella, a few small diamonds, and one hundred pounds,--all that remained to him, since he had been paying wages and other things for months, and had given Falcon twenty for his journey.
He rode away and soon put twenty miles between him and the diggings.
He came to a little store that bought diamonds and sold groceries and tobacco. He haltered his horse to a hook, and went in. He offered a small diamond for sale. The master was out, and the assistant said there was a glut of these small stones, he did not care to give money for it.
"Well, give me three dozen cigars."
While they were chaffering, in walked a Hottentot, and said, "Will you buy this?" and laid a clear, glittering stone on the counter, as large as a walnut.
"Yes," said the young man. "How much?"
"Two hundred pounds."
"Two hundred pounds! Let us look at it;" he examined it, and said he thought it was a diamond, but these large stones were so deceitful, he dared not give two hundred pounds. "Come again in an hour," said he, "then the master will be in."
"No," said the Hottentot quietly, and walked out.
Staines, who had been literally perspiring at the sight of this stone, mounted his horse and followed the man. When he came up to him, he asked leave to examine the gem. The Hottentot quietly assented.
Staines looked at it all over. It had a rough side and a polished side, and the latter was of amazing softness and lustre. It made him tremble. He said, "Look here, I have only one hundred pounds in my pocket."
The Hottentot shook his head.
"But if you will go back with me to Bulteel's farm, I'll borrow the other hundred."
The Hottentot declined, and told him he could get four hundred pounds for it by going back to Pniel. "But," said he, "my face is turned so; and when Squat turn his face so, he going home. Not can bear go the other way then," and he held out his hand for the diamond.
Staines gave it him, and was in despair at seeing such a prize so near, yet leaving him.
He made one more effort. "Well, but," said he, "how far are you going this way?"
"Why, so am I. Come with me to Dale's Kloof, and I will give the other hundred. See, I am in earnest, for here is one hundred, at all events."
Staines made this proposal, trembling with excitement. To his surprise and joy, the Hottentot assented, though with an air of indifference; and on these terms they became fellow-travellers, and Staines gave him a cigar. They went on side by side, and halted for the night forty miles from Bulteel's farm.
They slept in a Boer's out-house, and the vrow was civil, and lent Staines a jackal's skin. In the morning he bought it for a diamond, a carbuncle, and a score of garnets; for a horrible thought had occurred to him, if they stopped at any place where miners were, somebody might buy the great diamond over his head. This fear, and others, grew on him, and with all his philosophy he went on thorns, and was the slave of the diamond.
He resolved to keep his Hottentot all to himself if possible. He shot a springbok that crossed the road, and they roasted a portion of the animal, and the Hottentot carried some on with him.
Seeing he admired the rifle, Staines offered it him for the odd hundred pounds; but though Squat's eye glittered a moment, he declined.
Finding that they met too many diggers and carts, Staines asked his Hottentot was there no nearer way to reach that star, pointing to one he knew was just over Dale's Kloof.
Oh, yes, he knew a nearer way, where there were trees, and shade, and grass, and many beasts to shoot.
"Let us take that way," said Staines.
The Hottentot, ductile as wax, except about the price of the diamond, assented calmly; and next day they diverged, and got into forest scenery, and their eyes were soothed with green glades here and there, wherever the clumps of trees sheltered the grass from the panting sun. Animals abounded, and were tame. Staines, an excellent marksman, shot the Hottentot his supper without any trouble.
Sleeping in the wood, with not a creature near but Squat, a sombre thought struck Staines. Suppose this Hottentot should assassinate him for his money, who would ever know? The thought was horrible, and he awoke with a start ten times that night. The Hottentot slept like a stone, and never feared for his own life and precious booty. Staines was compelled to own to himself he had less faith in human goodness than the savage had. He said to himself, "He is my superior. He is the master of this dreadful diamond, and I am its slave."
Next day they went on till noon, and then they halted at a really delightful spot; a silver kloof ran along a bottom, and there was a little clump of three acacia-trees that lowered their long tresses, pining for the stream, and sometimes getting a cool grateful kiss from it when the water was high.
They halted the horse, bathed in the stream, and lay luxurious under the acacias. All was delicious languor and enjoyment of life.
The Hottentot made a fire, and burnt the remains of a little sort of kangaroo Staines had shot him the evening before; but it did not suffice his maw, and looking about him, he saw three elands leisurely feeding about three hundred yards off. They were cropping the rich herbage close to the shelter of a wood.
The Hottentot suggested that this was an excellent opportunity. He would borrow Staines's rifle, steal into the wood, crawl on his belly close up to them, and send a bullet through one.
Staines did not relish the proposal. He had seen the savage's eye repeatedly gloat on the rifle, and was not without hopes he might even yet relent, and give the great diamond for the hundred pounds and this rifle; and he was so demoralized by the diamond, and filled with suspicion, that he feared the savage, if he once had the rifle in his possession, might levant, and be seen no more, in which case he, Staines, still the slave of the diamond, might hang himself on the nearest tree, and so secure his Rosa the insurance money, at all events. In short, he had really diamond on the brain.
He hem'd and haw'd a little at Squat's proposal, and then got out of it by saying, "That is not necessary. I can shoot it from here."
"It is too far," objected Blacky.
"Too far! This is an Enfield rifle. I could kill the poor beast at three times that distance."
Blacky was amazed. "An Enfield rifle," said he, in the soft musical murmur of his tribe, which is the one charm of the poor Hottentot; "and shoot three times so far."
"Yes," said Christopher. Then, seeing his companion's hesitation, he conceived a hope. "If I kill that eland from here, will you give me the diamond for my horse and the wonderful rifle?--no Hottentot has such a rifle."
Squat became cold directly. "The price of the diamond is two hundred pounds."
Staines groaned with disappointment, and thought to himself with rage, "Anybody but me would club the rifle, give the obstinate black brute a stunner, and take the diamond--God forgive me!"
Says the Hottentot cunningly, "I can't think so far as white man. Let me see the eland dead, and then I shall know how far the rifle shoot."
"Very well," said Staines. But he felt sure the savage only wanted his meal, and would never part with the diamond, except for the odd money.
However, he loaded his left barrel with one of the explosive projectiles Falcon had given him; it was a little fulminating shell with a steel point. It was with this barrel he had shot the murcat overnight, and he had found he shot better with this barrel than the other. He loaded his left barrel then, saw the powder well up, capped it and cut away a strip of the acacia with his knife to see clear, and lying down in volunteer fashion, elbow on ground, drew his bead steadily on an eland who presented him her broadside, her back being turned to the wood. The sun shone on her soft coat, and never was a fairer mark, the sportsman's deadly eye being in the cool shade, the animal in the sun.
He aimed long and steadily. But just as he was about to pull the trigger, Mind interposed, and he lowered the deadly weapon. "Poor creature!" he said, "I am going to take her life--for what? for a single meal. She is as big as a pony; and I am to lay her carcass on the plain, that we may eat two pounds of it. This is how the weasel kills the rabbit; sucks an ounce of blood for his food, and wastes the rest. So the demoralized sheep-dog tears out the poor creature's kidneys, and wastes the rest. Man, armed by science with such powers of slaying, should be less egotistical than weasels and perverted sheep-dogs. I will not kill her. I will not lay that beautiful body of hers low, and glaze those tender, loving eyes that never gleamed with hate or rage at man, and fix those innocent jaws that never bit the life out of anything, not even of the grass she feeds on, and does it more good than harm. Feed on, poor innocent. And you be blanked; you and your diamond, that I begin to wish I had never seen; for it would corrupt an angel."
Squat understood one word in ten, but he managed to reply. "This is nonsense-talk," said he, gravely. "The life is no bigger in that than in the murcat you shot last shoot."
"No more it is," said Staines. "I am a fool. It is come to this, then; Kafirs teach us theology, and Hottentots morality. I bow to my intellectual superior. I'll shoot the eland." He raised his rifle again.
"No, no, no, no, no, no," murmured the Hottentot, in a sweet voice scarcely audible, yet so keen in its entreaty, that Staines turned hastily round to look at him. His face was ashy, his teeth chattering, his limbs shaking. Before Staines could ask him what was the matter, he pointed through an aperture of the acacias into the wood hard by the elands. Staines looked, and saw what seemed to him like a very long dog, or some such animal, crawling from tree to tree. He did not at all share the terror of his companion, nor understand it. But a terrible explanation followed. This creature, having got to the skirt of the wood, expanded, by some strange magic, to an incredible size, and sprang into the open, with a growl, a mighty lion; he seemed to ricochet from the ground, so immense was his second bound, that carried him to the eland, and he struck her one blow on the head with his terrible paw, and felled her as if with a thunderbolt: down went her body, with all the legs doubled, and her poor head turned over, and the nose kissed the ground. The lion stood motionless. Presently the eland, who was not dead, but stunned, began to recover and struggle feebly up. Then the lion sprang on her with a roar, and rolled her over, and with two tremendous bites and a shake, tore her entrails out and laid her dying. He sat composedly down, and contemplated her last convulsions, without touching her again.
At this roar, though not loud, the horse, though he had never heard or seen a lion, trembled, and pulled at his halter.
Blacky crept into the water; and Staines was struck with such an awe as he had never felt. Nevertheless, the king of beasts being at a distance, and occupied, and Staines a brave man, and out of sight, he kept his ground and watched, and by those means saw a sight never to be forgotten. The lion rose up, and stood in the sun incredibly beautiful as well as terrible. He was not the mangy hue of the caged lion, but a skin tawny, golden, glossy as a race- horse, and of exquisite tint that shone like pure gold in the sun; his eye a lustrous jewel of richest hue, and his mane sublime. He looked towards the wood, and uttered a full roar. This was so tremendous that the horse shook all over as if in an ague, and began to lather. Staines recoiled, and his flesh crept, and the Hottentot went under water, and did not emerge for ever so long.
After a pause, the lion roared again, and all the beasts and birds of prey seemed to know the meaning of that terrible roar. Till then the place had been a solitude, but now it began to fill in the strangest way, as if the lord of the forest could call all his subjects together with a trumpet roar: first came two lion cubs, to whom, in fact, the roar had been addressed. The lion rubbed himself several times against the eland, but did not eat a morsel, and the cubs went in and feasted on the prey. The lion politely and paternally drew back, and watched the young people enjoying themselves.
Meantime approached, on tiptoe, jackals and hyenas, but dared not come too near. Slate-colored vultures settled at a little distance, but not a soul dared interfere with the cubs; they saw the lion was acting sentinel, and they knew better than come near.
After a time, papa feared for the digestion of those brats, or else his own mouth watered; for he came up, knocked them head over heels with his velvet paw, and they took the gentle hint, and ran into the wood double quick.
Then the lion began tearing away at the eland, and bolting huge morsels greedily. This made the rabble's mouth water. The hyenas, and jackals, and vultures formed a circle ludicrous to behold, and that circle kept narrowing as the lion tore away at his prey. They increased in number, and at last hunger overcame prudence; the rear rank shoved on the front, as amongst men, and a general attack seemed imminent.
Then the lion looked up at these invaders, uttered a reproachful growl, and went at them, patting them right and left, and knocking them over. He never touched a vulture, nor indeed did he kill an animal. He was a lion, and only killed to eat; yet he soon cleared the place, because he knocked over a few hyenas and jackals, and the rest, being active, tumbled over the vultures before they could spread their heavy wings. After this warning, they made a respectful circle again, through which, in due course, the gorged lion stalked into the wood.
A savage's sentiments change quickly, and the Hottentot, fearing little from a full lion, was now giggling at Staines's side. Staines asked him which he thought was the lord of all creatures, a man or a lion.
"A lion," said Blacky, amazed at such a shallow question.
Staines now got up, and proposed to continue their journey. But Blacky was for waiting till the lion was gone to sleep after his meal.
While they discussed the question, the lion burst out of the wood within hearing of their voices, as his pricked-up ears showed, and made straight for them at a distance of scarcely thirty yards.
Now, the chances are, the lion knew nothing about them, and only came to drink at the kloof, after his meal, and perhaps lie under the acacias: but who can think calmly, when his first lion bursts out on him a few paces off? Staines shouldered his rifle, took a hasty, flurried aim, and sent a bullet at him.
If he had missed him, perhaps the report might have turned the lion; but he wounded him, and not mortally. Instantly the enraged beast uttered a terrific roar, and came at him with his mane distended with rage, his eyes glaring, his mouth open, and his whole body dilated with fury.
At that terrible moment, Staines recovered his wits enough to see that what little chance he had was to fire into the destroyer, not at him. He kneeled, and levelled at the centre of the lion's chest, and not till he was within five yards did he fire. Through the smoke he saw the lion in the air above him, and rolled shrieking into the stream and crawled like a worm under the bank, by one motion, and there lay trembling. A few seconds of sick stupor passed: all was silent. Had the lion lost him? Was it possible he might yet escape?
All was silent.
He listened, in agony, for the sniffing of the lion, puzzling him out by scent.
No: all was silent.
Staines looked round, and saw a woolly head, and two saucer eyes and open nostrils close by him. It was the Hottentot, more dead than alive.
Staines whispered him, "I think he is gone."
The Hottentot whispered, "Gone a little way to watch. He is wise as well as strong." With this he disappeared beneath the water.
Still no sound but the screaming of the vultures, and snarling of the hyenas and jackals over the eland.
"Take a look," said Staines.
"Yes," said Squat; "but not to-day. Wait here a day or two. Den he forget and forgive."
Now Staines, having seen the lion lie down and watch the dying eland, was a great deal impressed by this; and as he had now good hopes of saving his life, he would not throw away a chance. He kept his head just above water, and never moved.
In this freezing situation they remained.
Presently there was a rustling that made both crouch.
It was followed by a croaking noise.
Christopher made himself small.
The Hottentot, on the contrary, raised his head, and ventured a little way into the stream.
By these means he saw it was something very foul, but not terrible. It was a large vulture that had settled on the very top of the nearest acacia.
At this the Hottentot got bolder still, and to the great surprise of Staines began to crawl cautiously into some rushes, and through them up the bank.
The next moment he burst into a mixture of yelling and chirping and singing, and other sounds so manifestly jubilant, that the vulture flapped heavily away, and Staines emerged in turn, but very cautiously.
Could he believe his eyes? There lay the lion, dead as a stone, on his back, with his four legs in the air, like wooden legs, they were so very dead: and the valiant Squat, dancing about him, and on him, and over him.
Staines, unable to change his sentiments so quickly, eyed even the dead body of the royal beast with awe and wonder. What! had he already laid that terrible monarch low, and with a tube made in a London shop by men who never saw a lion spring, nor heard his awful roar shake the air? He stood with his heart still beating, and said not a word. The shallow Hottentot whipped out a large knife, and began to skin the king of beasts. Staines wondered he could so profane that masterpiece of nature. He felt more inclined to thank God for so great a preservation, and then pass reverently on, and leave the dead king undesecrated.
He was roused from his solemn thoughts by the reflection that there might be a lioness about, since there were cubs: he took a piece of paper, emptied his remaining powder into it, and proceeded to dry it in the sun. This was soon done, and then he loaded both barrels.
By this time the adroit Hottentot had flayed the carcass sufficiently to reveal the mortal injury. The projectile had entered the chest, and slanting upwards, had burst among the vitals, reducing them to a gory pulp. The lion must have died in the air, when he bounded on receiving the fatal shot.
The Hottentot uttered a cry of admiration. "Not the lion king of all, nor even the white man," he said; "but Enfeel rifle!"
Staines's eyes glittered. "You shall have it, and the horse, for your diamond," said he eagerly.
The black seemed a little shaken; but did not reply. He got out of it by going on with his lion; and Staines eyed him, and was bitterly disappointed at not getting the diamond even on these terms. He began to feel he should never get it: they were near the high-road; he could not keep the Hottentot to himself much longer. He felt sick at heart. He had wild and wicked thoughts; half hoped the lioness would come and kill the Hottentot, and liberate the jewel that possessed his soul.
At last the skin was off, and the Hottentot said, "Me take this to my kraal, and dey all say, 'Squat a great shooter; kill um lion.'"
Then Staines saw another chance for him, and summoned all his address for a last effort. "No, Squat," said he, "that skin belongs to me. I shot the lion, with the only rifle that can kill a lion like a cat. Yet you would not give me a diamond--a paltry stone for it. No, Squat, if you were to go into your village with that lion's skin, why the old men would bend their heads to you, and say, 'Great is Squat! He killed the lion, and wears his skin.' The young women would all fight which should be the wife of Squat. Squat would be king of the village."
Squat's eyes began to roll.
"And shall I give the skin, and the glory that is my due, to an ill-natured fellow, who refuses me his paltry diamond for a good horse--look at him--and for the rifle that kills lions like rabbits--behold it; and a hundred pounds in good gold and Dutch notes--see; and for the lion's skin, and glory, and honor, and a rich wife, and to be king of Africa? Never!"
The Hottentot's hands and toes began to work convulsively. "Good master, Squat ask pardon. Squat was blind. Squat will give the diamond, the great diamond of Africa, for the lion's skin, and the king rifle, and the little horse, and the gold, and Dutch notes every one of them. Dat make just two hundred pounds."
"More like four hundred," cried Staines very loud. "And how do I know it is a diamond? These large stones are the most deceitful. Show it me, this instant," said he imperiously.
"Iss, master," said the crushed Hottentot, with the voice of a mouse, and put the stone into his hand with a child-like faith that almost melted Staines; but he saw he must be firm. "Where did you find it?" he bawled.
"Master," said poor Squat, in deprecating tones, "my little master at the farm wanted plaster. He send to Bulteel's pan; dere was large lumps. Squat say to miners, 'May we take de large lumps? Dey say, 'Yes; take de cursed lumps we no can break.' We took de cursed lumps. We ride 'em in de cart to farm twenty milses. I beat 'em with my hammer. Dey is very hard. More dey break my heart dan I break their cursed heads. One day I use strong words, like white man, and I hit one large lump too hard; he break, and out come de white clear stone. Iss, him diamond. Long time we know him in our kraal, because he hard. Long time before ever white man know him, tousand years ago, we find him, and he make us lilly hole in big stone for make wheat dust. Him a diamond, blank my eyes!"
This was intended as a solemn form of asseveration adapted to the white man's habits.
Yes, reader, he told the truth; and strange to say, the miners knew the largest stones were in these great lumps of carbonate, but then the lumps were so cruelly hard, they lost all patience with them, and so, finding it was no use to break some of them, and not all, they rejected them all, with curses; and thus this great stone was carted away as rubbish from the mine, and found, like a toad in a hole, by Squat.
"Well," said Christopher, "after all, you are an honest fellow, and I think I will buy it; but first you must show me out of this wood; I am not going to be eaten alive in it for want of the king of rifles."
Squat assented eagerly, and they started at once. They passed the skeleton of the eland; its very bones were polished, and its head carried into the wood; and looking back they saw vultures busy on the lion. They soon cleared the wood.
Squat handed Staines the diamond--when it touched his hand, as his own, a bolt of ice seemed to run down his back, and hot water to follow it--and the money, horse, rifle, and skin were made over to Squat.
"Shake hands over it, Squat," said Staines; "you are hard, but you are honest."
"Iss, master, I a good much hard and honest," said Squat.
"Good-by, old fellow."
And Squat strutted away, with the halter in his hand, horse following him, rifle under his arm, and the lion's skin over his shoulders, and the tail trailing, a figure sublime in his own eyes, ridiculous in creation's. So vanity triumphed, even in the wilds of Africa.
Staines hurried forward on foot, loading his revolver as he went, for the very vicinity of the wood alarmed him now that he had parted with his trusty rifle.
That night he lay down on the open veldt, in his jackal's skin, with no weapon but his revolver, and woke with a start a dozen times. Just before daybreak he scanned the stars carefully, and noting exactly where the sun rose, made a rough guess at his course, and followed it till the sun was too hot; then he crept under a ragged bush, hung up his jackal's skin, and sweated there, parched with thirst, and gnawed with hunger. When it was cooler, he crept on, and found water, but no food. He was in torture, and began to be frightened, for he was in a desert. He found an ostrich egg and ate it ravenously.
Next day, hunger took a new form, faintness. He could not walk for it; his jackal's skin oppressed him; he lay down exhausted. A horror seized his dejected soul. The diamond! It would be his death. No man must so long for any earthly thing as he had for this glittering traitor. "Oh! my good horse! my trusty rifle!" he cried. "For what have I thrown you away? For starvation. Misers have been found stretched over their gold; and some day my skeleton will be found, and nothing to tell the base death I died of and deserved; nothing but the cursed diamond. Ay, fiend, glare in my eyes, do!" He felt delirium creeping over him; and at that a new terror froze him. His reason, that he had lost once, was he to lose it again? He prayed; he wept; he dozed, and forgot all. When he woke again, a cool air was fanning his cheeks; it revived him a little; it became almost a breeze.
And this breeze, as it happened, carried on its wings the curse of Africa. There loomed in the north-west a cloud of singular density, that seemed to expand in size as it drew nearer, yet to be still more solid, and darken the air. It seemed a dust-storm. Staines took out his handkerchief, prepared to wrap his face in it, not to be stifled.
But soon there was a whirring and a whizzing, and hundreds of locusts flew over his head; they were followed by thousands, the swiftest of the mighty host. They thickened and thickened, till the air looked solid, and even that glaring sun was blackened by the rushing mass. Birds of all sorts whirled above, and swooped among them. They peppered Staines all over like shot. They stuck in his beard, and all over him; they clogged the bushes, carpeted the ground, while the darkened air sang as with the whirl of machinery. Every bird in the air, and beast of the field, granivorous or carnivorous, was gorged with them; and to these animals was added man, for Staines, being famished, and remembering the vrow Bulteel, lighted a fire, and roasted a handful or two on a flat stone; they were delicious. The fire once lighted, they cooked themselves, for they kept flying into it. Three hours, without interruption, did they darken nature, and, before the column ceased, all the beasts of the field came after, gorging them so recklessly, that Staines could have shot an antelope dead with his pistol within a yard of him.
But to tell the horrible truth, the cooked locusts were so nice that he preferred to gorge on them along with the other animals.
He roasted another lot, for future use, and marched on with a good heart.
But now he got on some rough, scrubby ground, and damaged his shoes, and tore his trousers.
This lasted a terrible distance; but at the end of it came the usual arid ground; and at last he came upon the track of wheels and hoofs. He struck it at an acute angle, and that showed him he had made a good line. He limped along it a little way, slowly, being footsore.
By and by, looking back, he saw a lot of rough fellows swaggering along behind him. Then he was alarmed, terribly alarmed, for his diamond; he tore a strip of his handkerchief, and tied the stone cunningly under his armpit as he hobbled on.
The men came up with him.
"Hallo, mate! Come from the diggings?"
"Haw! haw! What! found a fifty-carat? Show it us."
"We found five big stones, my mate and me. He is gone to Cape Town to sell them. I had no luck when he had left me, so I have cut it; going to turn farmer. Can you tell me how far it is to Dale's Kloof?"
No, they could not tell him that. They swung on; and, to Staines, their backs were a cordial, as we say in Scotland.
However, his travels were near an end. Next morning he saw Dale's Kloof in the distance; and as soon as the heat moderated, he pushed on, with one shoe and tattered trousers; and half an hour before sunset he hobbled up to the place.
It was all bustle. Travellers at the door; their wagons and carts under a long shed.
Ucatella was the first to see him coming, and came and fawned on him with delight. Her eyes glistened, her teeth gleamed. She patted both his cheeks, and then his shoulders, and even his knees, and then flew in-doors crying, "My doctor child is come home!" This amused three travellers, and brought out Dick, with a hearty welcome.
"But Lordsake, sir, why have you come afoot; and a rough road too? Look at your shoes. Hallo! What is come of the horse?"
"I exchanged him for a diamond."
"The deuce you did! And the rifle?"
"Exchanged that for the same diamond."
"It ought to be a big 'un."
Dick made a wry face. "Well, sir, you know best. You are welcome, on horse or afoot. You are just in time; Phoebe and me are just sitting down to dinner."
He took him into a little room they had built for their own privacy, for they liked to be quiet now and then, being country bred; and Phoebe was putting their dinner on the table, when Staines limped in.
She gave a joyful cry, and turned red all over. "Oh, doctor!" Then his travel-torn appearance struck her. "But, dear heart! what a figure! Where's Reginald? Oh, he's not far off, I know."
And she flung open the window, and almost flew through it in a moment, to look for her husband.
"Reginald?" said Staines. Then turning to Dick Dale, "Why, he is here--isn't he?"
"No, sir: not without he is just come with you."
"With me?--no. You know we parted at the diggings. Come, Mr. Dale, he may not be here now; but he has been here. He must have been here."
Phoebe, who had not lost a word, turned round, with all her high color gone, and her cheeks getting paler and paler. "Oh, Dick! what is this?"
"I don't understand it," said Dick. "Whatever made you think he was here, sir?"
"Why, I tell you he left me to come here."
"Left you, sir!" faltered Phoebe. "Why, when?--where?"
"At the diggings--ever so long ago."
"Blank him! that is just like him; the uneasy fool!" roared Dick.
"No, Mr. Dale, you should not say that; he left me, with my consent, to come to Mrs. Falcon here, and consult her about disposing of our diamonds."
"Diamonds!--diamonds!" cried Phoebe. "Oh, they make me tremble. How could you let him go alone! You didn't let him go on foot, I hope?"
"Oh, no, Mrs. Falcon; he had his horse, and his rifle, and money to spend on the road."
"How long ago did he leave you, sir?"
"I--I am sorry to say it was five weeks ago."
"Five weeks! and not come yet. Ah! the wild beasts!--the diggers!-- the murderers! He is dead!"
"God forbid!" faltered Staines; but his own blood began to run cold.
"He is dead. He has died between this and the dreadful diamonds. I shall never see my darling again: he is dead. He is dead."
She rushed out of the room, and out of the house, throwing her arms above her head in despair, and uttering those words of agony again and again in every variety of anguish.
At such horrible moments women always swoon--if we are to believe the dramatists. I doubt if there is one grain of truth in this. Women seldom swoon at all, unless their bodies are unhealthy, or weakened by the reaction that follows so terrible a shock as this. At all events, Phoebe, at first, was strong and wild as a lion, and went to and fro outside the house, unconscious of her body's motion, frenzied with agony, and but one word on her lips, "He is dead!--he is dead!"
Dick followed her, crying like a child, but master of himself; he got his people about her, and half carried her in again; then shut the door in all their faces.
He got the poor creature to sit down, and she began to rock and moan, with her apron over her head, and her brown hair loose about her.
"Why should he be dead?" said Dick. "Don't give a man up like that, Phoebe. Doctor, tell us more about it. Oh, man, how could you let him out of your sight? You knew how fond the poor creature was of him."
"But that was it, Mr. Dale," said Staines. "I knew his wife must pine for him; and we had found six large diamonds, and a handful of small ones; but the market was glutted; and to get a better price, he wanted to go straight to Cape Town. But I said, 'No; go and show them to your wife, and see whether she will go to Cape Town.'"
Phoebe began to listen, as was evident by her moaning more softly.
"Might he not have gone straight to Cape Town?" Staines hazarded this timidly.
"Why should he do that, sir? Dale's Kloof is on the road."
"Only on one road. Mr. Dale, he was well armed, with rifle and revolver; and I cautioned him not to show a diamond on the road. Who would molest him? Diamonds don't show, like gold. Who was to know he had three thousand pounds hidden under his armpits, and in two barrels of his revolver?"
"Three thousand pounds!" cried Dale. "You trusted him with three thousand pounds?"
"Certainly. They were worth about three thousand pounds in Cape Town, and half as much again in"--
Phoebe started up in a moment. "Thank God!" she cried. "There's hope for me. Oh, Dick, he is not dead: he has only deserted me."
And with these strange and pitiable words, she fell to sobbing as if her great heart would burst at last.